Passing the torch
MHS welding program preparing students for real world applications
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly stories about the various Career and Technical Education opportunities offered at Mineola High School).
In one particular classroom at Mineola High School, the sparks fly on a routine basis – not from conflict but from tiny droplets of molten metal as young welding apprentices wield torches and fuse one metallic piece to another.
Inside a long corrugated steel building that rests upon a concrete slab, high school juniors and seniors don protective gloves and welding helmets as they apply their newfound skill to the task at hand.
Some students, like senior Preston Moser, have a larger ambition in mind. Amid the shower of sparks, they see a pathway to a solid career by mastering a set of skills in high demand.
Moser said he intends to graduate from Mineola High School with an industry certification in welding and then attend a two-year trade school. “I’m accepted into four schools right now, but I haven’t picked a final one yet,” said Moser, adding that his ultimate goal is to become a pipeline welder.
Were he to realize that goal, Moser may not find the road to riches, but he could enjoy a comfortable standard of living and economic security.
“If they catch on to a pipeline job, they can do that,” said Mark Parkerson, MISD’s director of special programs. The average starting wage in welding is about $37,000 per year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. “But if they happen to catch on to a pipeline or something like that, it’s going to go way up.” The average salary for a pipeline welder in Texas is nearly $60,000 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.
The demand for welders in Texas is forecast to increase in the coming years. Employment of welding, soldering and brazing workers is expected to grow by 13 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to graduation material provided by MISD.
Welding is a program of Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE programs are designed to provide students with skills that make them immediately employable in the workplace or give them a leg up if they choose to attend a technical school.
Welding instructor Brandon Williamson said, “All industries are different, but our goal is that they don’t need anything else (after graduating with an industry certification). Our goal is that they go from here to the workforce in whatever area that may be. All industries are different, they’ll require different things.”
Parkerson and Williamson describe the welding program at Mineola High as a pyramid, with a base of about 130-140 students who start with principles of welding. Fewer students enroll in classes as the coursework gets ever more demanding.
“There are kids who won’t make the cut from step to step,” noted Williamson. The district’s most advanced welding courses combined total no more than 25-30 students, he said.
Still, “25 to 30 is huge for a school like this,” said Parkerson.
The welding program at Mineola High is a step-by-step program that culminates with actual torch-in-hand training in MIG, TIG and Stick welding.
“A lot depends on the person; some just can’t get their heads around it for whatever reason. But generally, I would say it takes a few weeks to get the concepts through to them depending on their age level and maturity,” said Williamson. “A torch is one of the last things that we do because it’s pretty dangerous.”
Students generally get familiar with welding equipment in the sophomore year; they start using more advanced equipment as juniors and seniors. They also get more valuable one-on-one time with the instructor.
“As they go up that pyramid, the more one-on-one instruction they’ll get,” stated Williamson, adding that class sizes gradually get smaller the more advanced the training becomes. The most advanced welding class has about 10 students.
Along with an education in welding, students are immersed in many facets of metal fabrication, from plasma metal cutting to CAD (computer assisted drafting).
“We don’t want to focus on just one area; they need to be able to go into several different industries whenever they leave us, so they get familiar with plasma tables and running CNC (computer numerical control) and CAD drawings and stuff like that,” said Williamson. “We want a well-rounded student. Even though we are zoning in on welding and construction, we still want a well-rounded student whenever they come out the other end.”
Parkerson believes Mineola High School could be offering its welding students both high school and college credits if the district had better welding and metal fabrication facilities.
“We’re restricted,” said Williamson, who explains that students can work only on one large project (such as building or repairing a trailer) at a time. “We need a big, open area. And we’re restricted by electricity; we only have so much.”
The welding shop has 300 amp service, and it could use another 600, Parkerson noted.
“If our facilities and our equipment were different, we wouldn’t have any problems with those kids getting dual credits with (Tyler Junior College),” Parkerson said. “We can’t do it with current facilities, it doesn’t meet standards.”